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Ireland sides plan a busy journey on road to World Cup

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland have drawn up their programmes for the men and women in preparation for the World Cup finals in India and England respectively - and they are going to face quality opposition during intense schedules.

Craig Fulton's lads will take in venues in Spain, Malaysia and Germany as well as home games, and will line out against eight of the top 12 hockey nations.

Graham Shaw's girls will be off to Spain, Scotland, England and Germany as well as having a handful of home games for their series which starts in late July.

First up for the men is the trip to Benalmadena where they will face Canada, hosts Spain, Scotland and the USA from January 29 to February 3.

Next up is the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh in March where, as we revealed last week, they will face hosts Malaysia, Argentina, England, Australia and India.

Then come home games, with two against Germany followed by three against France in late June and three against the USA in July.

Then it's off to the Hamburg Masters in late July to take on hosts Germany, France and Spain before they complete preparations in November at a Six Nations series in Valencia.

"We have an experienced squad going to Spain next week and we're looking to build on the tactical and player combinations from a successful 2017," said Fulton.

"The Malaysia trip is a fantastic invite and a really important series for us as we will play four teams in the top eight as well as the host team in a packed stadium which is good experience.

"It is also significant having Germany come to play two matches while the Six Nations in Valencia will be invaluable as it is our last before the finals."

Fulton has named 24 players for the Malaga trip next week, including 10 Ulstermen, but not everyone is available - Eugene Magee, John Jackson, Mitch Darling, Kirk Shimmins and David Harte are among the absentees.

IRELAND: Jonathan Bell, Matthew Bell, Paul Gleghorne, Johnny McKee, Michael Robson, Sean Murray, Chris Cargo, Neal Glassey, Matthew Nelson, Peter Caruth; Lee Cole, Stuart Loughrey, Luke Madeley, Sam O'Connor, Stephen Cole, Shane O'Donoghue, Daragh Walsh, Alan Sothern, Mark Ingram, Jamie Carr, David Fitzgerald; Conor Harte, Julian Dale, Jeremy Duncan.

The women have four games against Spain in February, two against Scotland in March and a series of games against England. They also play Japan three times as well as Italy and Chile.

Meanwhile, the EY Irish Hockey League goes into hibernation again, due to that Spanish trip, but last night Banbridge crushed Cookstown 7-1 to climb to sixth.

There were two goals each for Philip Brown, Eugene Magee and Johnny McKee with Neil Gilmore getting the other, while Michael Kerr scored for the visitors.

Saturday sees a top of the table Ulster Premier League clash when second-placed Bangor host leaders Instonians with just a point separating them.

Two of the main challengers, Kilkeel and North Down, meet on Friday, while Mossley hope to clear their backlog with games against Portadown tomorrow and Civil Service on Saturday.

Last night, Newry beat Raphoe 6-1 with Kris Fletcher and Colin McKnight scoring twice and Keith McWilliams and Matthew Russell also on the mark, with Johnny Long scoring for the Donegal side.

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